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Marcel Duchamp: Appearance Stripped Bare

Marcel Duchamp: Appearance Stripped Bare

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Marcel Duchamp: Appearance Stripped Bare

Comprimento:
238 página
9 horas
Editora:
Lançado em:
Nov 7, 2011
ISBN:
9781628722260
Formato:
Livro

Descrição

Octavio Paz conveying his awareness of Duchamp as a great cautionary figure in our culture, warning us with jest and quiet scandals of the menacing encroachment of criticism, science and even art.” New York Times Book Review
Editora:
Lançado em:
Nov 7, 2011
ISBN:
9781628722260
Formato:
Livro

Sobre o autor

Octavio Paz was born in 1914 in Mexico City and served as the Mexican ambassador to India from 1962 to 1968. He was the author of many volumes of poetry as well as literary and art criticism and works on politics, culture, and Mexican history. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990, he was also awarded the Jerusalem Prize, the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. He died in 1998.

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Marcel Duchamp - Octavio Paz

1948-49.

THE CASTLE OE PURITY

Sens: on peut voir regarder.

Peut-on entendre écouter, sentir?

M.D.

Perhaps the two painters who have had the greatest influence on our century are Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. The former by his works; the latter by a single work that is nothing less than the negation of work in the modern sense of the word. The transformations that Picasso’s painting has gone through—metamorphoses would be a more accurate word—have astonished us consistently over a period of more than fifty years; Duchamp’s inactivity is no less astonishing and, in its way, no less fruitful. The creations of the great Spanish artist have been incarnations and, at the same time, prophecies of the mutations that our age has suffered between the end of Impressionism and the Second World War. Incarnations: in his canvases and his objects the modern spirit becomes visible and palpable; prophecies: the transformations in his painting reveal our time as one which affirms itself only by negating itself and which negates itself only in order to invent and transcend itself. Not a precipitate of pure time, not the crystallizations of Klee, Kandinsky, or Braque, but time itself, its brutal urgency, the immediate imminence of the present moment. Right from the start Duchamp set up a vertigo of delay in opposition to the vertigo of acceleration. In one of the notes in the celebrated Green Box he writes: "use delay instead of ‘picture’ or ‘painting’; ‘picture on glass’ becomes ‘delay in glass’. …" This sentence gives us a glimpse into the meaning of his activity: painting is a criticism of movement, but movement is the criticism of painting. Picasso is what is going to happen and what is happening, he is posterity and archaic time, the distant ancestor and our next-door neighbor. Speed permits him to be two places at once, to belong to all the centuries without letting go of the here and now. He is not the movements of painting in the twentieth century; rather, he is movement become painting. He paints out of urgency and, above all, it is urgency that he paints: he is the painter of time. Duchamp’s pictures are the presentation of movement: the analysis, the decomposition, the reverse of speed. Picasso’s drawings move rapidly across the motionless space of the canvas. In the works of Duchamp space begins to walk and take on form; it becomes a machine that Marcel spins arguments and philosophizes; it resists movement with delay and delay with irony. The pictures of the former are images; those of the latter are a meditation on the image.

Picasso is an artist of an inexhaustible and uninterrupted fertility; the latter painted fewer than fifty canvases and these were done in under ten years: Duchamp abandoned painting, in the proper sense of the term, when he was hardly twenty-five years old. To be sure, he went on painting for another ten years, but everything he did from 1913 onward is a part of his attempt to substitute painting-idea for painting-painting. This negation of painting, which he calls olfactory (because of its smell of turpentine) and retinal (purely visual), was the beginning of his true work. A work without works: there are no pictures except the Large Glass (the great delay), the Readymades, a few gestures, and a long silence. Picasso’s work reminds one of that of his compatriot Lope de Vega, and in speaking of it, one should in fact use the plural: the works. Everything Duchamp has done is summed up in the Large Glass, which was finally unfinished in 1923. Picasso has rendered our century visible to us; Duchamp has shown us that all the arts, including the visual, are born and come to an end in an area that is invisible. Against the lucidity of instinct he opposed the instinct for lucidity: the invisible is not obscure or mysterious, it is transparent…. The rapid parallel I have drawn is not an invidious comparison. Both of them, like all real artists, and not excluding the so-called minor artists, are incomparable. I have linked their names because it seems to me that each of them has in his own way succeeded in defining our age: the former by what he affirms, by his discoveries; the latter by what he negates, by his explorations. I don’t know if they are the greatest painters of the first half of the century. I don’t know what the word greatest means when applied to an artist. The case of Duchamp—like that of Max Ernst, Klee, De Chirico, Kandinsky, and a few others—fascinates me not because he is the greatest but because he is unique. This is the word that is appropriate to him and defines him.

The first pictures of Duchamp show a precocious mastery. They are the ones, however, that some critics describe as fine painting. A short time afterward, under the influence of his elder brothers, Jacques Villon and the sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon, he passed from Fauvism to a restrained and analytical Cubism. Early in 1911 he made the acquaintance of Francis Picabia and Guillaume Apollinaire. It was undoubtedly his friendship with these two men that precipitated an evolution that had until then seemed normal. His desire to go beyond Cubism can already be seen in a canvas of this period; it is the portrait of a woman passing by: a girl glimpsed once, loved, and never seen again. The canvas shows a figure that unfolds into (or fuses with) five female silhouettes. As a representation of movement or, to be more precise, a decomposing and superimposing of the positions of a moving body it anticipates the Nude Descending a Staircase. The picture is called Portrait (Dulctnea). I mention this detail because by means of the title Duchamp introduces a psychological element, in this case affectionate and ironic, into the composition. It is the beginning of his rebellion against visual and tactile painting, against retinal art. Later he will Marcel assert that the title is an essential element of painting, like color and drawing. In the same year he painted a few other canvases, all of them striking in their execution and some of them ferocious in their pitiless vision of reality: analytical Cubism is transformed into mental surgery. This period closes with a noteworthy oil painting: Coffee Mill. The illustrations to three poems of Laforgue also come from this time. These drawings are interesting for two reasons: on the one hand, one of them anticipates the Nude Descending a Staircase; on the other, they reveal that Duchamp was a painter of ideas right from the start and that he never yielded to the fallacy of thinking of painting as a purely manual and visual art.

In a conversation he had in 1946 with the critic James Johnson Sweeney¹ Duchamp hints at the influence of Laforgue on his painting: "The idea for the Nude … came from a drawing which I had made in 1911 to illustrate Jules Laforgue’s poem Encore à cet astre…. Rimbaud and Lautréamont seemed too old to me at the time. I wanted something younger. Mallarmé and Laforgue were closer to my taste…In the same conversation Duchamp emphasizes that it was not so much the poetry of Laforgue that interested him as his titles (Cornice agricole, for example). This confession throws some light on the verbal origin of his creative activity as a painter. His fascination with language is of an intellectual order; it is the most perfect instrument for producing meanings and at the same time for destroying them. The pun is a miraculous device because in one and the same phrase we exalt the power of the language to convey meaning only in order, a moment later, to abolish it the more completely. Art for Duchamp, all the arts, obey the same law: meta-irony is inherent in their very spirit. It is an irony that destroys its own negation and, hence, returns in the affirmative. Nor is his mention of Mallarmé fortuitous. Between the Nude and Igitur there is a disturbing analogy: the descent of the staircase. How can one fail to see in the slow movement of the woman-machine an echo or an answer to that solemn moment in which Igitur abandons his room forever and goes step by step down the stairs which lead him to the crypt of his ancestors? In both cases there is a rupture and a descent into a zone of silence. There the solitary spirit will be confronted with the absolute and its mask, chance.

Almost without realizing it, as if drawn by a magnet, I have passed over in a page and a half the ten years that separate his early works from the Nude. I must pause here. This picture is one of the pivotal works of modern painting: it marks the end of Cubism and the beginning of a development that hasn’t yet been exhausted. Superficially—though his work is constant proof that no one is less concerned with the superficial than Duchamp—the Nude would seem to draw its inspiration from preoccupations similar to those of the Futurists: the desire to represent movement, the disintegrated vision of space, the cult of the machine. Chronology excludes the possibility of an influence: the first Futurist exhibition in Paris was held in 1912 and, a year before, Duchamp had already painted a sketch in oils for the Nude. The similarity, moreover, is only an apparent one: the Futurists wanted to suggest movement by means of a dy- Marcel namic painting; Duchamp applies the notion of delay—or, rather, of analysis—to movement. His aim is more objective and goes closer to the bone: he doesn’t claim to give the illusion of movement—a Baroque or Mannerist idea that the Futurists inherited—but to decompose it and offer a static representation of a changing object. It is true that Futurism also rejects the Cubist conception of the motionless object, but Duchamp goes beyond stasis and movement; he fuses them in order to dissolve them the more easily. Futurism is obsessed by sensation, Duchamp by ideas. Their use of color is also different. The Futurists revel in a painting that is brilliant, passionate, and almost always explosive. Duchamp came from Cubism and his colors are less lyrical; they are denser and more restrained: it is not brilliance that he is after but rigor.

The differences are even greater if we turn from the external features of the painting to considering its real significance, that is to say, if we really penetrate the vision of the artist. (Vision is not only what we see; it is a stance taken, an idea, a geometry—a point of view in both senses of the phrase.) Above all, it is one’s attitude toward the machine. Duchamp is not an adept of its cult; on the contrary, unlike the Futurists, he was one of the first to denounce the ruinous character of modern mechanical activity. Machines are great producers of waste, and the refuse they leave increases in geometric proportion to their productive capacity. To prove the point, all one needs to do is to walk through any of our cities and breathe its polluted atmosphere. Machines are agents of destruction and it follows from this that the only mechanical devices that inspire Duchamp are those that function in an unpredictable manner—the antimachines. These apparatuses are the equivalent of the puns: the unusual ways in which they work nullify them as machines. Their relation to utility is the same as that of delay to movement; they are without sense or meaning. They are machines that distill criticism of themselves.

The Nude is an antimachine. The first irony consists in the fact that we don’t even know if there is a nude in the picture. Encased in a metal corset or coat of mail, it is invisible. This suit of iron reminds us not so much of a piece of medieval armor as of the body of an automobile or a fuselage. Another stroke that distinguishes it from Futurism is the fact that it is a fuselage caught in the act not of flight but of a slow fall. It is a mixture of pessimism and humor: a feminine myth, the nude woman, is turned into a far more gloomy and threatening apparatus. I will mention, as a last point, a factor that was already present in his earlier works: rational violence, so much more ruthless than the physical violence that attracts Picasso. Robert Lebel says that in Duchamp’s painting the nude plays exactly the same role as the old drawings of the human skeleton in the anatomy books: it is an object for internal investigation.² For my part I would emphasize that the word internal should be understood in two senses: it is a reflection on the internal organs of an object and it is interior reflection, self-analysis. The object is a metaphor, an image of Duchamp: his reflection on the object is at the same time a meditation on himself. To a certain extent each one of his paintings is a symbolic self-portrait. Hence the plurality of meanings and points of view of a work like the Nude: it is pure plastic creation and meditation on painting and movement; it is the criticism and culminating point of Cubism; it is the beginning of another kind of painting and the end of the career of Duchamp as a pictorial artist; it is the myth of the nude woman and the destruction of this myth; it is machine and irony, symbol and autobiography.

After the Nude Duchamp painted a few extraordinary pictures: The King and the Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes, The Passage from Virgin to Bride, and Bride. In these canvases the human figure has disappeared completely. Its place is taken not by abstract forms but by transmutations of the human being into delirious pieces of mechanism. The object is reduced to its most simple elements: volume becomes line; the line, a series of dots. Painting is converted into symbolic cartography; the object into idea. This implacable reduction is not really a system of painting but a method of internal investigation. It is not the philosophy of painting but painting as philosophy. Moreover, it is a philosophy of plastic signs that is ceaselessly destroyed, as philosophy, by a sense of humor. The appearance of human machines might make one think of the automatons of De Chirico. It would be quite absurd to compare the two artists. The poetic value of the figures of the Italian painter comes from the juxtaposition of modernity with antiquity; the four wings of his lyricism are melancholy and invention, nostalgia and prophecy. I mention De Chirico not because there is any similarity between him and Duchamp but because he is one more example of the disturbing invasion of modern painting by machines and robots. Antiquity and the Middle Ages thought of the automaton as a magical entity; from the Renaissance onward, especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was a pretext for philosophical speculation; Romanticism converted it into erotic obsession; today, because of science, it is a real possibility. The female machines of Duchamp remind us less of De Chirico and other modern painters than of the Eve Future of Villiers de L’Isle-Adam. Like her, they are daughters of satire and eroticism, although, unlike the invention of the Symbolist poet, their form doesn’t imitate the human body. Their beauty, if this word can be applied to them, is not anthropomorphic. The only beauty that Duchamp is interested in is the beauty of indifference: a beauty free at last from the notion of beauty, equidistant from the romanticism of Villiers and from contemporary cybernetics. The figures of Kafka, De Chirico, and others take their inspiration from the human body; those of Duchamp are mechanical devices and their humanity is not corporeal. They are machines without vestiges of humanity, and yet, their function is more sexual than mechanical, more symbolic than sexual. They are ideas or, better still, relations—in the physical sense, and also in the sexual and linguistic; they are propositions and, by virtue of the law of meta-irony, counterpropositions. They are symbol-machines.

There is no need to seek further for the origins of Duchamp’s delirious machines. The union of these two words—machine and delirium, method and madness—brings to mind the figure of Raymond Roussel. Duchamp himself has on various occasions referred to that memorable night in 1911 when—together with Apollinaire, Picabia, and Gabrielle Buffet—he went to a performance of Impressions d’Afrique. To his discovery of Roussel must be added that of Jean-Pierre Brisset.³ In the conversation with Sweeney referred to earlier, Duchamp talks enthusiastically about both people: "Brisset and Rousseau were the two men I most admired at that time for the wildness of their imaginations…. Brisset was preoccupied with the philological analysis of language—an analysis that consisted of spinning an unbelievable web of double entendres and puns. He was a kind of Douanier Rousseau of philology. But it was fundamentally Roussel who was responsible for my glass, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. This play of his, which I saw with Apollinaire, helped me greatly on

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